Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

"Reeling In" Grimm Masculinities Hucksters, Cross-Dressers, and Ninnies

Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

"Reeling In" Grimm Masculinities Hucksters, Cross-Dressers, and Ninnies

Article excerpt

[The] god-awful, kitschy films about the Brothers Grimms' lives and how they came to write fairy tales . . . "frame" the Grimms in such a way that the background to their lives and the purpose of their collecting tales are totally distorted to create lively entertainment. . . . The Grimms come off more as lovable fops than serious scholars, and history itself is mocked. Entertainment is always more important than truth. We live in realms of fiction. ... So, perhaps the only way we can glean some truth about the Brothers Grimm will be through fiction and popular culture.

-Jack Zipes, The Brothers Gnmm, x

Representations of writers in popular film contribute to a paratextual dimension that shapes the production and reception of their compositions.1 A paratext encompasses those elements of a creative work that surround it and present it as a text - titles, dedications, forewords, introductions, and so on. Authorial names can also be paratextual devices shaped by mediated representation.2 In other words, how I come to appreciate Hans Christian Andersen's work may be colored by my viewing of the classic film Hans Christian Andersen, directed by Charles Vidor. I might imagine Andersen as embodied by actor Danny Kaye, who Jack Zipes describes as a "happy-go-lucky cobbler, unlucky in love, who sought to entertain children with his delightful storytelling" (Enchanted Screen 252). As Zipes identifies, "The problem with this rosy image of a highly neurotic man, who was afraid to love and had only occasional contact with children, is that it belies the profound and disturbing contribution that Andersen made to the fairy-tale tradition throughout the world" (252). Indeed, Andersen's cultural contributions currently undergo the same trivialization and Disneyfication as the author himself.3 Such treatment affects the seriousness with which a work is viewed in cultural industries. The critical edge of authors' writings - such as insights about social injustice and political turmoil - are too often omitted entirely.

The Grimm brothers' widely popular collection of folktales and fairy tales, Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales), has been subject to similar trivializing practices in mainstream American cultural industries.4 Divorced from their historical context and dismembered from authorial intention, the stories have been reframed anew for North American consumption.5 Akin to the populist understandings of their stories, in contemporary American film the brothers themselves are "dehistoricized and presented not as cultural artifacts but as natural transcultural possessions" (Zipes, Enchanted Screen 64). The Grimm brothers are re -presented as culturally transcendent figures who, like their stories, have a universal spirit. This cultural transcendence also leaves them susceptible to appropriation, or as some have argued, "Americanization" (Bronner 184). Donald Haase attributes the universalization of the Grimms in the American literary tradition as deriving from World War 11 and "the Anglo-American attitude toward the German as the other - an other who must be dominated, tamed, and civilized" ("Yours, Mine, Ours?" 64; emphasis mine).6 The Grimms have been subjected to not just one (as with Hans Christian Andersen) but multiple cinematic portrayals, more precisely, within the "biopic" film genre.7

According to Simon Bronner, the Grimms' legacy in the cultural discourse of folklore credits them for "defining folklore romantically and scientifically, internationally and nationally, historically and contemporaneously ... for alternately espousing fragmentation and unity, international diffusion and romantic nationalism, historical reconstruction and cultural fieldwork, blatant literary license and fidelity to tradition" (184). Obviously, as figures with a wildly contradictory legacy, it is not surprising that their cultural representation tends to exist somewhere between manipulated facts and creative fiction. …

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